It Was a Sugary Kind of Afternoon

The initial stop on the Sugar Trail at New York’s Genesee Country Village and Museum.

I didn’t really know what to expect when our son and his wife informed us that we were going to a maple sugar festival. I knew that our daughter-in-law was super excited, which was enough incentive for me. Besides, what choice did I have? They had already purchased tickets, and it was a rain or shine event.

So, off we drove southwest from Rochester, New York, to the Genesee Country Village and Museum. We arrived in less than an hour, and it was clear from the crowded parking lot that we weren’t alone on this adventure.

We checked in and were directed to the Sugar Shack, where the modern method of boiling maple sap down to create maple syrup was explained. In New York, it takes about 39 gallons of sap to make a gallon of maple syrup. I thought back to my Ohio days when I visited various sugaring operations. The general rule there was 52 gallons of sap to create a gallon of maple syrup. I wondered if the latitude had anything to do with the difference.

From there, it was on to sugar snow. That’s where maple syrup is poured over snow for a special tasty treat. In the absence of snow, crushed iced served the same purpose. We enjoyed it just the same.

Soon, we were on the Sugar Trail, where volunteers in period costume explained the maple sugaring evolution one station at a time. Our umbrellas went up before we even stepped foot on the trail.

The wet weather didn’t dampen the spirits of either our gang of six or the knowledgeable folks at each stop. They knew their stuff and shared how both Native Americans and white settlers took advantage of the sap run during February and March.

We learned a lot along the way. The walk was equally a figurative and literal stroll through the woods dominated by sugar maple trees. We followed the signs from stop to stop, ending up at how maple sap is currently gathered by most successful sugaring operations.

Plastic tubing is strung from tree to tree with plastic inserts that are tapped into the tree. Gravity carries the sap to the main collecting barrel instead of going from tree to tree emptying individual buckets full of the sweet stuff. In truth, only 2% of the water collected is sugar, thus the boiling of the water. Workers have to gauge the proper heat to avoid burning the syrup. Despite the mechanization, it’s still a tedious process.

By trail’s end, we were ready for lunch. A brief stop at an on-sight eatery got us going again. That’s when the real surprise came.

Genesee Country Village and Museum is a collection of historical buildings brought to the site for educational purposes. George Eastman’s boyhood home is in the village. Eastman was the founder of Eastman Kodak Company.

The village is divided into sections to represent the various architectural structures of the late 18th century into the early 20th century. Some of the buildings, like the Hosmer’s Inn and its smokehouse and the Jones Farm had guides in period outfits to give a brief description of the way life used to be in those particular times. We also enjoyed maple flavored goodies from the bakery.

The sun came out, and the temperature warmed, making our afternoon even more delightful. Most of all, it was a joy to spend these precious moments with family.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2022

A glimpse into the past, hope for the future

living history, old stone house, Granite Quarry NC
Living history.

By Bruce Stambaugh

I parked the van on the 21st Century side of the road and walked with my wife and our host couple across the two-lane highway back to 1766. The combination of the cold winter air and the smoke from several campfires immediately invigorated our senses and drew us in like kids to candy.

It was Christmas 18th Century style at the Old Stone House in the appropriately named village of Granite Quarry, North Carolina. The massive stones that formed the large, two-story house had been quarried a short distance away. A cast of volunteers decked out in period attire for their chosen character roles held me spellbound at every station.

The ladies at the beehive oven kept producing fresh-baked goodies for visitors to sample. The cornbread was pretty tasty. Members of the Mecklenburg Militia caroused around quietly spinning yarns that spanned generations. Still, they did their duty. To my knowledge, no one was arrested for pilfering sweet bread or inciting unrest.

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The militia’s cotton tents appeared flimsy and insufficient to keep out the cold for their camp over. Indeed, a spy told me they all intended to sleep in the comfort of the little log cabin outbuilding that housed a book sale for the event. Given the bite in the late afternoon air, I couldn’t blame them.

The old granite house stood proud and impressive, having been restored 50 years earlier. Its 22-inch walls kept the interior warm in the winter and cool in the summer.

We stepped into the living room to time-appropriate music as our guide rattled off detail after detail of what life was like three centuries ago. Though this house was large and elegant even by today’s standards, life was demanding. The family and their indentured servants and slaves always had plenty to do merely to ensure day-to-day survival.

The children in our group weren’t too impressed with the straw ticking that served as the mattress on the old rope bed. “Sleep tight and don’t let the bedbugs bite” took on a practical meaning to them. The guide demonstrated the sizeable wooden key for tightening the ropes that served as slats to hold the mattress. The herb tansy was interspersed with the straw to keep most of the bugs away. We all laughed when a stinkbug crawled out onto the ticking.

Upstairs was plain and noticeably cooler since the only heat came from the first-floor fireplaces. A slave squeezed into a wall space behind the massive kitchen fireplace to keep the fire going overnight.

Since the builder of the house had migrated south from Lancaster, Pennsylvania, he modeled his home after the ones he knew. The spacious clapboard kitchen was attached to the main house, wherein that era the kitchen was a separate building at most southern homes.

Old Stone House, Granite Quarry NC
Will the door to the past help guide us into a better future?
The kitchen was the engine that ran the household. Here everything from cooking to spinning to laundry to bathing took place. Since the youngest in the family got the last bath using the same water as the others, you didn’t want to “throw the baby out with the bathwater.” The guide mused how we still use sayings without knowing their real origin.

In warmer weather, bathing took place in the stream that ran through the deciduous woods behind the house. Likely there was no lingering in that outdoor bathing arrangement.

I marvel at this kind of living history. It allows us to stand in the present, glimpse the past, and long for a better life for all future generations everywhere.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

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